Physician Assisted Suicide in California

Last year, the State of California enacted a controversial new law that allows doctors to prescribe medicine to terminally ill patients that will let patients decide when to end their lives. The state has recently issued its first report on how the law is being used.

Elder law advocates have been paying a lot of attention to California’s new law allowing terminally ill people to seek physician assisted suicide. The law was extremely controversial and remains so.

If it is deemed successful, then its advocates think the law can be used as a model for other states to follow. Those who are opposed to the law, are watching it closely to see if there are any problems with it that they can use to bolster their arguments.

The State of California recently issued a report about usage of the law in the first six months after it was enacted, The New York Times reports in “State: 111 Terminally Ill End Lives Under New California Law.”

Life ending drugs were prescribed to 191 terminally ill patients. A total of 21 of them passed away before taking the drugs, and 111 used them to end their lives.

The fates of the remainder were not known at the time that the report was issued.

The typical patient was a terminally ill elderly person diagnosed with cancer who was receiving hospice or palliative care. In total, 173 different doctors prescribed the drug to patients.

One thing the data shows, is that the median age of the patients was 73 and the majority were over 60.

Reference: New York Times (June 27, 2017) “State: 111 Terminally Ill End Lives Under New California Law.”

Changing the Way We Die

After facing his own mortality, B.J. Miller has made it his life’s goal to change the way that people pass away.

When he was a sophomore in college, B.J. Miller went out drinking with friends. On the way to a convenience store at 4 a.m., he decided to climb to the top of a commuter rail car. When he got to the top, he received a massive electrical shock and fell.

He woke up in a hospital a few days later, severely burned and in great pain. Doctors had to amputate both of his legs below the knees and his left arm. Rather than retreating into a permanent shell, Miller went back to school and eventually became a doctor.

Learning from his own near-death experience, Dr. Miller decided to devote his medical career to end-of-life, or palliative care, focusing on the quality of life for the terminally ill and their families.

Dr. Miller eventually became executive director of a small hospice in San Francisco known as the Zen Hospice Project. Once a pioneer, the Zen Hospice is now a role model for a growing effort nationwide to “reclaim death as a human experience instead of primarily a medical one.”

Dr. Miller talks about his experience and his mission in the New York Times Magazine article, “One Man’s Quest to Change the Way We Die.” The article chronicles the story of one young man’s journey to accept a terminal diagnosis of mesothelioma and how Dr. Miller’s approach helped him, and his family, to achieve some peace with the loss of such a young, promising life. The piece is fairly long, but well worth a read, especially if you or someone you love is dealing with a terminal illness.

Reference: New York Times Magazine (January 3, 2017) “One Man’s Quest to Change the Way We Die.”